Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about how to determine whether there is too much baggage in a relationship and if you should just cut your losses and move on. In my response, I provide guidance on whether love can really conquer all, how to deal with baggage (especially if you don’t like his ex or his ex’s family), and how to know whether your relationship has too much baggage than you can handle:
I am 10 years younger than him and single, never engaged or married with no children. He has been married and divorced twice now with two children, one from each marriage. His last wife he got pregnant after only a few months of dating (her sneaky idea) and so his parents being religious as well as him and wanting to do what was right told him to marry her. A few months later they were married and it all went downhill from there, she had already three children, one from a relationship, two from her last marriage and then now pregnant with her fourth child. He stayed in the relationship and tried to make it work for nine years for the kids.
One day he met me at his work, me seeing his ring knew he was off limits though I was attracted to him and he seemed nice and we had this pull towards each other, he has never cheated before and never talked to another woman in either of his marriages.
His first wife cheated on him and didn’t want to try and work it out but wanted a divorce, she kind of went off the rails and he has custody of his son. His second wife he has been miserable in the relationship right from before their daughter was born. He got my phone number off of some paperwork from his work place and messaged me. He said he has never done anything like this before but saw something in me and didn’t want this opportunity to pass him. He and his wife were already discussing to split or not.
After a few weeks of us talking and we saw each other a couple times he told her yes that he wanted a divorce. They separated and he slept on the couch, which he did most of their marriage anyways. Shortly after, I said yes to him to be in a relationship, thinking that I could handle his past and all his baggage. He was still in the house with his wife and family for a few months trying to sell the house and separate. I worked out of town for two weeks at a time so I was gone a lot.
For the next three months our relationship was kind of a secret, on his side only his parents knew about us. He then moved out with his son and told him about us. I basically moved in shortly after that since I was basically living out of a suitcase and out of town most of the time and when I was home, we were together, so it made sense. I believe it was maybe four months after that, not entirely sure, when he told everyone else, including his daughter.
Our relationship was like no other, just absolutely amazing, we fell in love so quickly and we’re talking about our future and marriage. He is like no one I have ever dated before, he is much older, divorced, has kids, religious, comes from a very unconventional family with an adopted brother, foster siblings, step siblings, half-brother…and I believed that I could handle it all that our love for each other could withstand anything else.
I am starting to think that it may not be enough and all his baggage is just too much for me as he was a part of that family for a decade and wants to have her kids in his life and to be whatever they want him to be, the oldest is now married with a baby and he says he is a grandpa to him.
I just don’t think being only 26 that I am able to deal with not only his two kids but also three others and a supposed grandchild as well as two ex’s (even though the first isn’t in the picture much, which is a relief). We live in a small city and I find us or myself running into his past a lot!
This is all so hard for me as his ex-wife wasn’t the best person and so I don’t want anything to do with her or her family including her children which look a lot like her. His children though take after him which is easier for me. He should be officially divorced right away and we were together for a year, we are taking time apart to try and figure out what it is we can and cannot live with.
I no longer was working out of town and he wanted me to move out because he felt like he was compromising on his beliefs with us living together before marriage and being intimate before marriage and also felt like he wasn’t giving his son enough attention with me always there.
When we first were seeing each other he never mentioned the other kids much and made it seem that they would no longer be in the picture or our future but now it’s like he has changed his mind and wants to be a part of their lives. With all of these other people from his past and other women he has to talk to I don’t like it. I wanted a fresh start for us, distance between his past and our future.
Should I just cut my losses and move on? The hard part is that it’s not us that don’t work, we love each other so much and get along so well it’s amazing, the only thing is his past and I’m not sure if I can handle it or want it in my life.
He and his ex-wife’s only talk when they need to such as the kids or the divorce but I still don’t like it. I have never been in a relationship where another woman let alone two were in his life.
Are these issues able to be overcome? How are we able to work through this? We both love each other and want to be together but are these issues too much? Am I just being attached to him? He is an amazing man like no other I have ever met, but is his baggage too much?
Should we try and figure things out and us be together? Or is his past, kids, and baggage all just too much for me to handle and him not able to live without or compromise on?
–Too Much Baggage
Dear Too Much Baggage,
Thanks so much for reaching out. I really feel your frustration and concern.
Know that it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do in this situation. I had very similar feelings when I was dating the guy who’s now my husband, especially having never been married and having never been a parent.
I really struggled with trying to figure out whether this was the right relationship for me.
Can Love Conquer All?
First, I really want to acknowledge you for asking these hard questions and for your self-awareness.
Having some awareness of your beliefs, and reflecting on your experience is valuable, and it’s the first step to overcoming any beliefs that might be holding you back from the love life that you truly want.
Often, we go into a relationship with the best intentions thinking that any hardships will be overcome because we believe that “love will conquer all.”
Love for each other is a very important element of relationship success.
But love and attraction for each other is only part of the equation.
The other part is compatibility and readiness.
In addition to love and attraction, compatibility takes into account whether you can honor your life vision, as well as your relationship needs and relationship requirements, while in this relationship.
And relationship readiness is about being ready and available for the kind of relationship that you really want, that there isn’t anything in your life (or his) that could interfere with the success of the relationship.
When You Both Want to Step Back
I know it can be hard to take some time apart, especially having already lived together.
We worry that the relationship might not recover from time apart.
But I would argue that wanting to take it slow, wanting to think about things, is actually a good thing.
When we take it slow and reflect, we raise our awareness of what’s really going on for us and what we truly want.
And as a result, we tend to be much more intentional about our decisions.
And when we’re much more intentional about our decisions, we tend to make decisions that are more aligned with our long-term happiness and fulfillment.
Consciousness, even if it’s a bit painful, helps expand your view, which ultimately helps you get closer to what you really want.
Is It Love or Attachment?
I wrote an article on the difference between love and attachment that you might find helpful.
Basically, attachment comes from a sense of fear and sense of lack, while healthy love comes from a sense of wholeness.
We can become attached when we rely on someone else, something outside of our self, to make us feel happy and complete.
Healthy love really comes from relying on our inner resources to feel happy and complete, and then sharing in that experience with others.
Check out the article on the difference between love and attachment for a list of important questions to ask yourself to help you discern whether you’re in love or attachment.
When You Don’t Like His Ex or Her Family
You mentioned that his ex-wife “wasn’t the best person” and so you “don’t want anything to do with her.”
You don’t have to like his ex-wife or want to talk to her. You can choose not to associate or interact with her.
If she’s not friendly toward you or if she doesn’t want anything to do with you either, you can choose not to socialize with her.
But the truth is, by virtue of being the mother of this kids, she is going to be in his life because she is responsible for co-parenting with him (depending on their custody arrangement).
The thing to look out for is if she is truly interfering with your relationship with him or your relationship with his kids, like bad-mouthing you or him to the kids, or creating loyalty conflicts to where the kids feel like that have to choose between their mom and their dad, or directly harassing you or people you care about.
If his ex is actively interfering with your relationship, he needs to confront her on that and set boundaries.
And I would say that you would also have to consider his vision for the kind of relationship and family life that he wants.
We all have a vision for the kind of life and relationship that we want.
And if his vision is to be close to his ex’s kids and to have a family-oriented, friendly relationship with his ex-wife in which they spend a lot of family time together, likely with you included in that family time, then I would encourage you to think about whether you want to support him in that vision.
If it’s something that is intolerable to you, then this relationship might not be a good fit for you and him because you would be at odds with each other’s life vision, and then he wouldn’t feel happy and fulfilled in that area of his life and neither would you.
The ball is really in your court in terms of how you want to manage your emotions and your interactions with her, because your emotional reaction is actually your baggage, not his.
Dealing with Baggage
The truth is, we all have baggage.
Each one of us has a past.
And our past can often influence our emotions, reactions, and decisions that we have in the present.
For example, if you’ve only had bad experiences with ex-wives in your dating life, then that experience might color your perspective and interaction with ex-wives.
But what if you’ve only had wonderful experiences with ex-wives who were always friendly, open, and welcoming to you?
That experience might color how you view and interact with ex-wives today, as well.
But the fact that we all have a past is not a bad thing.
We all have past experiences in our lives that can trigger our present emotions and reactions.
So the issue is not our past and how much baggage we have, the issue is how we manage our triggers.
Your discomfort with the fact that he has “all of these other people from his past and other women he has to talk to” and your desire for a “fresh start” is your emotional reaction and perspective.
His interaction with the other women in his life, the mother of his kids and his family, are triggering something in you.
So I would really encourage you to take very close look at that is coming up for you.
We can often lessen the amount of fear in our life and relationships with CLARITY.
And clarity comes with self-awareness.
So I would encourage you to reflect on:
What is it about him being in contact with his ex that upsets you?
What does it mean to you to have “distance between his past and his future”?
What is it about “running into his past” that is troubling for you?
What is it about this situation that is making you feel jealous, threatened or insecure?
And have you experienced this in previous relationships?
What kind of future and relationship do you really want?
I run into my ex-husband’s family all the time.
His ex-wife lives ten blocks from us.
We go to ballgames with his former sister-in-law.
I see family photos of my husband and “his past” decorating the walls of his mother’s and sister’s house.
I’ll admit, at first it was weird and uncomfortable seeing pictures of him and his ex-wife together in his mother’s home.
But then I thought, why wouldn’t they be in his mother’s house? She’s the mother of her grandkids and she’s on good terms with her grandkids’ mom.
I had to own up to the fact that my emotional reaction was 100% me and my triggers.
We needn’t fear or feel threatened by the past.
It’s water under the bridge.
The past has already happened and there’s nothing we can do to change it.
But what we can change is our emotional reaction to the past.
That is 100% our choice and within our control.
I recently recorded a teleclass on dealing with baggage that you might find helpful.
You can download it for free from my dealing with baggage page.
Is It Too Much Baggage?
So is there such a thing as “too much baggage” in a relationship?
But here’s the thing: you get to decide what’s “too much” for you.
There’s no rubric out there that delineates what’s too much baggage, there are only the limits that you create.
So how do you decide for yourself whether he has “too much” baggage?
You decide by getting clear on your relationship vision, needs and relationship requirements.
Deciding whether or not something is “too much” or intolerable depends on what your dreams and your deal-breakers are.
So I would encourage you to think about:
What does a fulfilling life and relationship look like for you?
What are your dreams for your life?
What do you need in a relationship in order to feel loved and valued?
What do you need in a relationship in order for the relationship to work for you?
What are you non-negotiables or deal-breakers in a relationship?
Can this relationship let you live out your dreams and your vision for your life?
Does this relationship support your needs and relationship requirements?
If there are issues or conflicts in your relationship, this usually points to an unmet need or requirement.
And so you have to decide how you want to address those issues, whether you want to problem-solve the issues (which might mean even letting go of some needs if that is what you want to do) or actually leave the relationship.
Being in a relationship with single dad (and an ex-wife and an ex-family) takes every ounce of confidence to not to get caught up in jealousy or insecurity.
You need to have pretty high self-esteem and thick skin to succeed in this role because there will likely be a lot of circumstances that might trigger emotional reactions within you, and you would have to manage those reactions if you choose to stay in the relationship.
On the same note, it’s totally ok if you don’t want to put yourself through any of that.
Walking away is a choice you have, too.
But you ultimately have to decide: What makes staying in a relationship or leaving a relationship worth it to you?
You’re always empowered with choices.
And these choices are best made with your vision, needs and relationship requirements in mind.
Whatever the issues are in your relationship, if you find yourself agonizing over questions like…
Is this relationship worth it??
Should I give him a chance or walk away??
I totally get you. I felt the same way when I was dating, which is why I created a free guide to help you get clarity.
In my free guide you’ll discover:
- 30 questions to ask yourself to help you decide if you should give him a chance or if you’re wasting your time
- 22 red flags you should be aware of if you want to avoid heartbreak and painful surprises
- How to assess your compatibility with your partner to know if your relationship has long-term potential
Want to avoid wasting your precious time? I hear you! Download my free guide Should You Stay or Go? Relationship Choice Assessment ↴
Heal Anxious Attachment in Romantic Relationships
If anxious attachment has been a problem for you in your romantic relationships and you want to feel confident and secure (and make conscious relationship decisions) so that you can have a deeply fulfilling life and love, I can help.
I invite you to apply for a free Anxious to Secure Breakthrough Visioning & Strategy Session.
This session is for those who feel ready to do deeper work on this and are considering working together to overcome painful relationship patterns so that they can free themselves anxious attachment, have fulfilling love, and live an authentic Soul-led life.❤️
Dr. MS says
I am curious to know if American men come with too many pathology, and hence American women come with too much anger, sadness, fear and anxiety. I was married to a highly educated once well employed working class Anglo American. We are separated, but I am taking care of him because of his Huntington’s. But it is taking up my time, energy, future and hope.
Mark was a nice guy without any exes, kids and financial problems. But his understanding, managing and supporting of modern marriages, with an equally educated smart female partner, a career woman and wife, was zero. No wonder there are so many divorces in the US. I want a divorce, as I took care of him long enough, even when he was healthy. I would like to both leave the country and marry someone outside the US. That is what I want. Our divorce papers were tampered with when I was overseas. I don’t know who did that. But our divorce was rejected though our paper was prepared by a paralegal and we had no disputes whatsoever. America made me suffer for a long time. it is a not society I want to live in or care to be part of. I have zero trust in this country, after 30 years of sacrifice and struggles.
I am over 50 and clear about what I want and what I do not. I will be leaving a marriage without any assets or support, but also without baggage…no kids, no financial obligation for the ex and none of his White trash family to deal with (his parents are now dead, and his only brother, an awful man, will not be on the phone as he hopefully takes care of his only brother, whom he has done anything for for many many years even as he suffers from Huntington’s). I have been taking care of Mark physically, psychologically, financially and socially for a long time…before and during his Huntington’s. He was diagnosed within a few months after dating, few months after his mother got diagnosed. She got diagnosed first. We got his check up only to make sure we could have the kids without the Huntington’s gene. Unfortunately he ended up with the gene and the disease. But he was okay, with mild symptoms, for about seven years…and then it was all downhill. But it was not just the marriage and his horrific genetic disease, but also the racism, sexism and all kinds of ugly isms I encountered in the US. I knew US was in decline way before it became apparent to many people now. So, how do I plan this next huge step? What websites can I go to to emigrate out and marry someone outside the US. I am sick of American men (even Jewish men).
To some it may seem immature to say that…but America needs to hear it. I have done more than my share of giving to this country. Now help me get out, and marry someone outside this country.
Melissa Josue says
HI Dr. MS, Thanks so much for reaching out and sharing your story. I am so sorry you are going through this. I can hear you pain and frustration. It sounds like you are very fed up.
I am not sure what the process of legalities are with emigrating out of the US and marring someone else. The first step would be to assess your readiness for a new relationship before meeting someone else to start dating them and considering them for marriage.
But even BEFORE you start dating, I would highly advise that you resolve any legal or financial obligations to your current spouse. I don’t know what your current spouse’s condition is with his disease, but if he is aware of your intentions to divorce, it would serve you and your husband to end your relationship…legally, finally, emotionally… and make sure you are ready for a new relationship before you move on to dating and marrying someone else because it is very difficult to have a successful relationship if you have obligations to your previous relationship that might interfere with your new relationship.
I hope this helps provide some guidance!
my God this is a powerful blog AND commentary. Woo wee. It’s mature, balanced, diplomatic, progressed and certainly for the big girls in which I am in constant limbo of being. I also have to check my deep seeded triggers. Creation knows that I am in a relationship right now that pull out the baggage, secrets and my ability to cope through it. I am forced to look at my ugly through a bag man I’m dealing with now who needs me so much. And I realize though his life and past is NO prize – his struggles and messiness surfacing is causing me to look at my own sh*t. My own ingrams and trigger emotions. I am exhausted by the lessons of love and just want to love. But I think part of the pathology your previous commentator spoke on affects us ALL to some degree in this country and I’m not exempt from being impacted by the dysfunction for what this country made us. Especially as an African American woman dealing with the highs and lows that are tied to specific generations of African American men (not all but a number of them). So, her dissatisfaction written above and your article is something I need to hold onto biblically to weigh and judge what I need to do with myself. I thank you both. Even the other woman providing feedback of her (perceived) saddening scenario, I learned that our cultural JUNK is toxic to ourselves and others. I must look in the mirror.
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.
Melissa Josue says
Hi Eliza, You’re so welcome! Thank you so much for commenting and for sharing your story! I’m so glad the website content has been valuable to you.
I hear you. Every relationship is an opportunity for growth. I really believe that’s what they mean when they say relationships take work. It takes a lot of inner work! 🙂
I really acknowledge you for your self-awareness!
All the best,
What if the exes and 3 baby mamas became very mad he got married and started calling social services and police to your home? What do you do then? I have my four children 2 boys 2 girls their father died in an motorcycle accident years ago. s
I fall in love years later and marry. Not even 5 months living under the same roof Mom number 1 starts her drama that she wants her 17 year old daughter and turns his daughter against him. A week after move out uses this same daughter and other daughter to say daddy lives at home beating them so he actively has domestic violence case. All she wanted was social services to pay her move to Up north. But the courts didnt allow me or his mother to speak. Fell for her crock of shit.
Next baby mama has a 10 year old saw where we lived. Im paying majority of where we live. But she felt he was paying so once again here comes another court case. Wanting 800 a month one child. Mind you she lives with her mom because she chooses. She actually said the extra money will help her with her moms mortgage and her drugs.
Next up the mom that tricked me we have their 10 year old. Yes he had 2 daughters both ten both different moms when he decided to go women crazy after the first baby mama, This one here feels he should not be married, does not want to coparent, and now to run me off because this all should of been hers another lil delusional soul thinking he pays all when he does not even pay half with all his hot court messes. She decides to call cops and social services faking allegations of her own daughter and her own dad apparently in her allegations every male has touched her daughter. Her daughter is embarrassed humiliated disgusted with the allegations but I cant even focus on her. She claims if she does not break us apart well my sons are up next to embarassed.
So when is the past toxic enough for a person to not want the past and future to collide. If it was up to me all this pain and hurt they are causing I wish they could go to prison for the lies and chaos they stir up.
They are winning and me being the good supportive wife is dying.